A helping hand: barely discernible instructions for a miniaturist

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 5/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 100v (miniature of the Crowning of Thorns with instructions in left margin)

Marginal directions for illuminators—be they in written or in sketch form—are relatively common in the thirteenth century, and though they could no doubt be studied further, a very useful discussion of them is provided in Jonathan J. G. Alexander’s landmark Medieval Illuminators and their Methods of Work, published in 1992 (chp. 3, “Programmes and Instructions for Illuminators,” pp. 52–72). However, such notations become quite unusual as time goes on, especially in Books of Hours. The thinking is that standardized iconographies and massive workshop production made the usual iconographical cycle found in a Book of Hours so familiar to miniaturists that they needed no guiding words to help them. Those who (today) handle Books of Hours on a routine basis will surely understand how the typical iconography found in the various sections of these books quickly becomes almost entirely predictable.

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fols. 38v–39r (end of Gospel Lessons and beginning of Hours of the Virgin)

In cataloguing a rather late and somewhat scruffy Northern French Book of Hours from the first quarter of the sixteenth century, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 107, I discovered some faint, barely legible inscriptions in the margins adjacent to some of the more unusual miniatures. In certain cases, these short texts are partially covered over by the shell gold and paint of the miniatures, proving that they were indeed production notes and not after-the-fact annotations. While there are no inscriptions next to the canonical scenes in the Hours of the Virgin (for example in the Annunciation for Matins of the Hours of the Virgin, fol. 39r, shown above), inscriptions do appear next to the relatively uncommon cycle of miniatures in the combined Hours of the Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit. For example, for the scene of Christ presented as the Man of Sorrows (known as the “Ecce Homo” in Latin), the word “homo,” or man appears in the margin.

This is an image of fol. 101v from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 107, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (Flanders, 1500 - 1525).
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 101v (miniature of the Man of Sorrows with “homo” marginal instruction)

Elsewhere, the brief notations seem to have been partially rubbed away to erase them after the completion of the miniatures, rendering them hard to read. For the miniature showing the Resurrection, the Latin word “Resurrexit” seems to be partially discernible, though this is one instance where even the best digital (or analog) images don’t convey as much information as the first-hand examination of the page.

This is an image of fol. 108r from Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 107, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (Flanders, 1500 - 1525).
Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 108r (miniature of the Resurrection with “Resurrexit” marginal instruction)

In other cases, the accompanying words are almost illegible. They are scrawl-like, highly abbreviated, and typical of earlier instructions for illuminators in that they seem to condense iconographies into short phrases. These are quite different from the longer, more expository instructions, sometimes in the vernacular, that accompanied romances, histories, or arcane religious texts in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The illuminator at work here apparently needed a helping hand: he had already deviated from normal practice in depicting the Circumcision at Nones in the Hours of the Virgin, instead of the canonical Presentation (of Christ) in the Temple. These, of course, are two distinct events in the New Testament narrative, though they occasionally came to be conflated in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In our case, was this the result of specific instructions, local tradition, or mere oversight?

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 107, fol. 77r (miniature of the Circumcision of Christ in lieu of the habitual Presentation in the Temple)


The Star of Salvation, an unknown Franciscan devotional dialogue in Italian with a lost sister copy in Croatia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 4/52

Stella di Salute, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (introductory rubric with the name of the author and date of composition)

John Frederick Lewis’ wonderful collection of two hundred Western Medieval codices, dozens of non-European manuscripts, and thousands of cuttings and single leaves is justly famous. This outstanding ensemble has been housed at the Free Library of Philadelphia since it was gifted to the institution by John Frederick’s widow, Anne Baker Lewis, in 1933. Four years later, the two hundred codices were the subject of a summary catalogue authored by Edwin Wolf.[1] And yet the Free Library is home to more than fifty additional manuscripts, which were somewhat confusingly given “Lewis E” shelfmarks of 201 and above, that made their way to the Rare Book Department on the third floor of Parkway Central Library by other means. Because they were not published in the 1937 catalogue, these manuscripts are generally less well-known. Some, including the subject of today’s post, were in fact acquired earlier; in this case, through the William Pepper Fund seven years prior to the Lewis donation, in 1926.

This book, Lewis E 205, consists of an unpublished Italian devotional treatise, composed in question-and-answer form, entitled the Stella di Salute (Star of Salvation). The author, as stated in the introductory rubric (fol. 1r), is a Franciscan friar from the province of the Marche by the name of Santi de Bon Cor (unless this was a convenient pen name!). The text was composed, according to the rubric, on the twenty-fifth day of February, 1450. It is unclear whether the present copy is contemporary or slightly later in date; its script and style of decoration appear to be from the mid-fifteenth century. The book is written in an elegant, Southern Textualis or Rotunda script. The colophon on fol. 205v states that the scribe’s name was Faustino, unfortunately a rather common first name in fifteenth-century Italy.

Lewis E 205, fol. 250v (colophon with the name of the scribe, Faustino)

Lewis E 205, fol. 1r (detail of inhabited initial S with a haloed bishop)

The text begins with an illuminated first page containing a historiated initial S depicting a haloed bishop, though it is unclear who this might be intended to represent. A manuscript with the same text and with a similar number of folios, but apparently with more lavish decoration, is listed in Hans Folnesics’ survey of illuminated manuscripts in Dalmatia.[2] In Folsesics’ corpus, which was published in 1917, the sister manuscript is described as being housed in the library of the State Italian College of Zadar (Gimnasio superiore di Zara), at a time when Zadar was still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Today, of course, Zadar is in the Republic of Croatia, but throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period it was closely linked to the Eastern coast of Italy and the Marche region via the Adriatic. Interestingly, the Zadar manuscript’s opening miniature is described as being quite a bit more complex, showing the Franciscan author embracing the bow of a ship named “gentil navicella,” upon which the figure of a woman stands, holding a rosary and pointing upwards to the Redeemer. If any readers are aware of the present-day location of this related manuscript, please do let us know!

[1] Edwin Wolf, A. S. W. Rosenbach, and Richard W. Ellis, A descriptive catalogue of the John Frederick Lewis collection of European manuscripts in the Free library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Free Library of Philadelphia, 1937).

[2] Hans Folsenics, Die illuminierten Handschriften in Dalmatien (Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1917), p. 50

The identification of a Spanish patron for a neglected Book of Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 3/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 19, fol. 3r

Lehigh University’s small but excellent collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts deserves to be better known–and soon will be thanks to the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis digitization project! Only the first sixteen of the university’s manuscripts to be acquired were described (and briefly at that) in Seymour de Ricci’s Census of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the United States and Canada (1935–1940); later acquisitions were not listed in the supplement to the census published in 1962. In 1970, the young John C. Hirsh (now a professor of English at Georgetown University), who received his doctorate from Lehigh that very year, organized an exhibition of the manuscripts and published a short guidebook to them, which was the first attempt at a complete checklist: Western Manuscripts of the Twelfth through the Sixteenth Centuries in Lehigh University Libraries: A Guide to the Exhibition.

The 1970 exhibition provided some new information about Lehigh’s manuscripts, but nothing like a comprehensive catalog, and there remains much research to be done on this collection. A case in point is Lehigh Codex 19, a Book of Hours of the Use of Rome described by Hirsh as a “15th-century manuscript on vellum, written in France.” A closer examination of the manuscript in fact reveals that it was produced in Flanders for export to Spain, a phenomenon that was quite widespread in the fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries (and another example of which may be the famous Collins Hours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art).[1]

To begin with, the coat-of-arms visible on fol. 3r, nestled amidst a charming “Ghent-Bruges”-style border more typical of Flanders in the early sixteenth century, is identifiable as that of the Ayala family of Toledo, Spain: Argent, two wolves passant sable in pale, a bordure gules charged with eight saltires or (in Spanish, “En campo de plata, dos lobos de sable, uno sobre otro; bordura de gules, con ocho aspas de oro”). The Ayala de Toldeo family was prominent in royal affairs in Spain around the turn of the sixteenth century, having been awarded the Duchy of Fuensalida by Henry IV of Castile in 1470.[2] While the book contains no further information as to the exact original owner of the book, an examination of the Ayala dynasty allows us to posit a number of potential candidates, either among the sons and daughters of Pedro López de Ayala II, whose death in 1486 probably occurred before the book was made, or among the children of Alfonso de Silva y Ayala, perhaps Pedro López de Ayala IV, who died in 1537. [edit: As Peter Kidd rightly points out in a comment below, the Obsecro te and O intemerata prayers, as well as the prayer of Saint Augustine, contain feminine forms, confirming that the book’s first intended recipient was a woman. This makes the most likely owner Leonor de Ayala, about whom little is known, or perhaps one of her sisters or her niece, Maria de Silva Ayala.]


Family tree drawn from Juan Ramon Palencia Herrejón, “Elementos Simbólicos de Poder de la Nobleza urbana en Castilla: los Ayala de Toledo al final del Medievo,” En la España medieval 18 (1995): 177 (article pp. 163–180)

The imposing Ayala residence in Toledo, the Palacio de Fuensalida, survives today as the headquarters of the presidency of Castilla-La Mancha. The building’s interior and facade are emblazoned with the coat-of-arms found in our Book of Hours.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Palacio_de_Fuensalida._Toledo.jpg   Palacio de Fuensalida 000.jpg
Exterior facade and interior courtyard of the Palacio de Fuensalida, Toledo, Spain

Other evidence of our manuscript’s intended use and eventual presence in Spain abounds. The manuscript contains Castilian rubrics for a series of fifteen unusual prayers that appear to be associated with Giles of Rome (lived ca. 1243–1316; fols. 109r-181v), and an inquisition verification inscription on fol. 181v, dated to 1573.

http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0007/lehigh_codex_019/data/web/6689_0224_web.jpg   http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0007/lehigh_codex_019/data/web/6689_0369_web.jpg
Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 19, fols. 190r and 181v

By coincidence, another manuscripts preserved in the region, at The Rosenbach Library and Museum, also contains a (previously identified) coat-of-arms of this same family. Rosenbach MS 482/2, a Spanish translation of De regimine principum produced around the year 1500, includes the Ayala de Toldeo arms in the bottom right hand corner of folio 18r. Interestingly, this treatise on the conduct of princes was originally written by Giles of Rome, the author to whom some of the prayers in the Lehigh Book of Hours seem to be connected. Might there be an Ayala family preference at play here?

De regimine principum, The Rosenbach Library and Museum, MS 482/2, fol. 18r, with detail of Ayala coat-of-arms below compared to that in Lehigh Codex 19


[1] For this phenomenon see Javier Docampo Capilla, “Horas Scriptas / Horas de Enprenta: Producción y Comercio de Libros de Horas En La Península Ibérica,” in Del Autor Al Lector: El Comercio y Distribución Del Libro Medieval y Moderno, ed. Manuel José Pedraza Gracia, Carlos Yolanda San Román, and Nicolás Bas Martín (Zaragoza: Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 2017), 15–36; and idem, “La importación de manuscritos iluminados y su influencia en la miniatura de la Península Ibérica: 1470-1570,” in La miniatura medieval en la Península Ibérica, ed. Joaquin Yarza Luaces (Murcia: Nausicaa, 2007), 255–311.

[2] For this family, see Juan Ramon Palencia Herrejón, “Elementos Simbólicos de Poder de la Nobleza urbana en Castilla: los Ayala de Toledo al final del Medievo,” En la España medieval 18 (1995): 163–180; and idem, Los Ayala de Toledo: desarrollo e instrumentos de poder de un linaje nobiliario en el siglo XV (Toledo: Concejalía de Cultura, 1996).

The prior provenance of one of the first medieval manuscripts to arrive in Philadelphia

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 2/52

Traictie des VII fruis de tribulacion, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, Ms. 18 875.Q, fol. 1r

The Library Company of Philadelphia is justly famous for being the first successful lending library in the western hemisphere, and one of North America’s oldest cultural institutions. And while the Library’s headquarters on Locust Street houses an unparalleled collection of books and manuscripts relating to early American history, few are aware that it is also home to about thirty Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. Several of these are exceptional not, primarily, for their content, but for the early date at which they arrived on American shores. Manuscripts known to have been present in American collections before the turn of the nineteenth century are vanishingly rare, and the paths by which they crossed the Atlantic remain relatively understudied.

A good example of this phenomenon is a late-fifteenth-century manuscript that contains an unpublished devotional text in French, the Traictie des VII fruis de tribulacion or Treatise on the Seven Fruits of Tribulation, written by a member of the Celestine order, an offshoot of the Benedictines founded by Pope Celestine V. The manuscript itself contains a single, heavily damaged opening miniature representing a kneeling layman in prayer before Saint Michael, Saint James (or possibly Saint Roch), and a bishop saint. The unidentified coat-of-arms below it has been erased and crudely re-drawn, frustrating our ability to identify the figure represented in the scene above. The preceding flyleaf contains a later ownership inscription, perhaps dating to circa 1600, also in French, that has unfortunately been partially effaced and rendered illegible, though the somewhat earlier, elaborate, late-Gothic penwork below it is clearly readable as “L’an mil cinq cens et trente huit,” or, the year fifteen-thirty-eight.

The Library Company of Philadelphia, Ms. 18 875.Q, unnumbered flyleaf recto

The manuscript is of special interest to Philadelphians because it once belonged to the pioneering bibliophile William Mackenzie (July 1758–1828), who bequeathed the little book to the Loganian Library, later the Library Company of Philadelphia, in 1828. As Edwin Wolf stated, at the time of his death, Mackenzie possessed “by far the most valuable collection of antiquarian and modern books up to then gathered by an American.”[1] The diminutive Traicitie des VII fruis can be found in the first Catalogue of the books belonging to the Loganian library, published in 1837. But the manuscript’s rather unusual title has facilitated the identification of this very volume in a Parisian auction catalog of 1785 (De Bure, Catalogue des livres rare et précieux de M. …. [d’Hess], Paris, 7 March 1785, lot 35).


This was the sale of Joseph-Louis, Baron d’Heiss, the ambassador of the Palatine Elector in Paris. According to a recent Christie’s sale catalogue the Baron “ruined himself through extravagant book acquisitions and was forced to sell his library in 1781 for 100,000 livres to Antoine-Rene d’Argenson, marquis de Paulmy (1722-1787), founder of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal…. Able to pay off his debts, but bereft of his library, d’Heiss began to collect again, and in the next few years formed a second library, which was dispersed in his anonymous sale by de Bure.” Throughout the multiple sales of his collection, detailed here in an excellent blog post by Jean-Paul Fontaine, he preferred to remain anonymous, noted only as “M. le Baron d’***,” though his identity may have been an open secret to those in the know.

We do not know how rapidly Mackenzie purchased the manuscript following the sale, nor if he knew anything of its prior provenance. Little is known about William Mackenzie’s life, aside from his book collecting, though he apparently did not travel much beyond Philadelphia. The publication that accompanied a 1995 exhibition held at the Library Company, entitled William Mackenzie: America’s First Rare Book Collector, provides some further information,[2] as does the entry in the American National Biography, which recalls that:

The dispersal of hundreds of monastic and aristocratic libraries during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars created an unprecedented opportunity for collectors such as Mackenzie, who were able to acquire a far greater amount of much older and rarer material on the open market than had previous generations. While few sources for Mackenzie’s purchases have been identified, it is known that he bought at local bookstores…. It is likely that he had a European agent looking out for his interests.[3]

Trade between Europe and the United States had resumed in 1784, so by the following year the acquisition of such a book would have been feasible, though presumably an intermediary was used.

Whether Mackenzie acquired the book directly from this sale via an agent in Europe, or through the intermediary of an American bookseller such as Thomas Dobson (1751–1823), is difficult to ascertain. Nevertheless, the Library Company manuscript represents an extremely early example of an (admittedly modest) object from a major European aristocratic collection being purchased by a New World collector, preceding the large-scale American interest in medieval manuscripts by a century or more.

[1] Edwin Wolf II, “Great American Book Collectors to 1800,” Gazette of the Grolier Club 16 (June 1971), 23.

[2] Karen Nipps, William Mackenzie, America’s First Rare Book Collector (Philadelphia: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1994). See also Monica Bourke, “Exhibit Review: ‘William Mackenzie: America’s First Book Collector,’ The Library Company of Philadelphia” Pennsylvania History 62.3 (1995): 402–406.

[3] Karen Nipps, “Mackenzie, William (1758-1828), bibliophile and book collector” in American National Biography (2000). Accessed 3 Mar. 2019.